Prospective relationships between workplace sexual harassment and psychological distress

Occup Med (Lond). 2012 Apr;62(3):226-8. doi: 10.1093/occmed/kqs010. Epub 2012 Mar 6.


Background: Exposure to workplace sexual harassment (SH) has been associated with impaired mental health, but longitudinal studies confirming the relationship are lacking.

Aims: To examine gender differences in prospective associations between SH and psychological distress.

Methods: Baseline questionnaire survey data were collected in 2005 in a representative sample of Norwegian employees. Follow-up data were collected in 2007. SH was measured with the Bergen Sexual Harassment Scale. Psychological distress was measured with the 25 item Hopkins Symptom Checklist (HSCL-25) with cases of psychological distress defined as having a mean score of <1.75. Variables were measured at both baseline and follow-up. Logistic regression analysis was used to analyse data.

Results: Response rates were 57% in 2005 and 75% in 2007 when the final cohort comprised 1775 respondents. After adjusting for baseline distress and age, exposure to SH at baseline was associated with psychological distress at follow-up among women [odds ratio (OR): 2.03; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.2-3.39] but not men (OR: 1.32; 95% CI: 0.72-2.43). Baseline distress was significantly related to SH at follow-up among men (OR: 3.03; 95% CI: 1.74-5.26) but not women (OR: 1.15; 95% CI: 0.69-1.92).

Conclusions: The study found that SH contributed to subsequent psychological distress among women. Workplace measures against SH would be expected to lead to a reduction in mental disorders. The finding that psychological distress predicts SH among men may indicate either a vulnerability factor or a negative perception mechanism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sex Factors
  • Sexual Harassment / psychology*
  • Sexual Harassment / statistics & numerical data
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workplace / psychology*
  • Young Adult